cover image Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost

Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost

Caitlin Zaloom. Princeton Univ, $29.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-691-16431-1

Zaloom’s comprehensive exposé of the college-financing industry argues that middle-class Americans are in an unresolvable bind: culturally mandated to ensure “open futures” for their children, but unable to afford to do so without help, they become ensnared in risky, speculative debt. Zaloom (Out of the Pits), associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, interviewed 160 families about financing college and found that spiraling tuition, stagnant wages, and the way college finance is designed—with an idyllic nuclear family in mind that often bears little resemblance to those seeking assistance, because it does not take into account medical expenses or dependents other than children—have created an impossible situation for middle-class families. Those who suffer the most, Zaloom finds, are precisely those who would benefit most from the upward mobility that college is supposed to ensure. African-American parents, for example, carry more debt on average than white parents, and black students carry 70% more debt than white students. Zaloom calls for reinvestment in public education funding, so that personal penury is not the cost of seeking higher education and the opportunities it can provide. The facts described here will be familiar to anyone who’s heard of the student-debt crisis; the analysis, with its emphasis on the moral dilemma facing middle-class families, will resonate with parents confronting it. [em](Sept.) [/em]